The traditional image of a meditator is someone sitting cross-legged with eyes closed and their hands resting on their knees, with thumbs and index fingers touching to form a circle as they chant the sound Om. That chanting of Om is what’s called the chanting of a mantra.
The word “mantra” comes from two Sanskrit words: man, which means “mind,” and tra, which means “vehicle” or “instrument.” So your mantra is your mind vehicle . . . your mind instrument. It is a tool to transport the mind from a state of activity to one of stillness and silence. We get the words “train,” “travel,” and “transportation” from the Sanskrit root tra. Most mantras are comprised of the 50 letters of the Sanskrit alphabet. Mantras can consist of a single letter, a syllable or string of syllables, a word, or a whole sentence. Typically, most mantras are sounds, syllables, or vibrations that don’t necessarily have a meaning. Their value lies in their vibrational quality, not in any meaning that humans, society, culture, or civilization has placed on them over the last few thousand years. For this reason, they go beyond the state of human existence on this planet. And they take you deeper, because they are vibrations that have existed since the dawn of creation.
All guests at my retreats, if they don’t already have one, receive their personal mantras in a special ceremony. But if you don’t have a personal mantra, using the “hymn of the universe” works just fine.
Om, often referred to as the hymn of the universe, is the oldest mantra sacred to Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains. Om is considered the ultimate vibration, because it contains every vibration that has ever existed and every vibration that will ever exist. Just as white light contains all the colors of the spectrum, Om contains every sound in the vibrational spectrum—even those we can’t hear with our ears.
This is the Sanskrit symbol for the vibration Om. The large curve on the lower left represents the material world of the waking state; the smaller curve on the upper-left represents the state of deep sleep. The curve on the right that extends to the right from the intersection of the two left curves represents the dream state—that tender line between waking and sleeping. The dot at the very top is akin to the dot (or bindu) in the center of the sri yantra and represents the universe in all its abundance. This state is often referred to as turiya (pronounced tour-yah) a Sanskrit word for “absolute consciousness,” “the universe,” or “one-ness.” And the curved line under the bindu represents maya, the illusion of existence that separates our bodymind from one-ness and must be transcended for us to return to the whole. Ommmmm!
TRY IT! First, take a deep breath in through your nostrils and hold it for a moment and then slowly let it out. Do that again. Say om out loud and feel the vibration as it is birthed, then sustains, and then dies out as you purse your lips.
Now let’s whisper it. Om. And now begin repeating it silently to yourself. Om, om, om, om.
Close your eyes and silently repeat the mantra over and over.
When you notice that you have drifted away from the mantra to thoughts in your mind, sounds in the environment, or sensations in your physical body, gently drift back to the mantra. It will get louder and fainter, faster and slower; it will even become jumbled, distorted, and inaudible. However the mantra changes, simply keep repeating it, and when you notice you’ve drifted away just gently drift back. Back and forth and back and forth again. Gently surrender to the back and forth.
Learn more about mantra meditation, in my book “Secrets of Meditation.”